The Art of Vulnerability

If you’ve met me, even for only a few minutes, the first few words out of your mouth to describe me would not be anything along the lines of delicate, vulnerable, or emotional. You might say that I sometimes come off as a bit…aloof. This is partly because of my appearance (tall, athletic, with RBF of course), and partly of my own making. For years, I thought I had to handle everything on my own without ever betraying the difficulty of doing so. I thought that displays of excessive emotions, whether good or bad, demonstrated a lack of control, and asking for help? Oh my god, that was PEAK humiliation for me. I was pretty much this way all the way through my first year of university. I would bestow tough love advice on friends who got caught up in their feelings, and related the most to people, who, like me, didn’t rely too much on others.

This way of living took it’s toll though. I found that I would put a lot of pressure on myself, and I would implode frequently at home crying with my mom or venting to my sister. I suppose I only allowed myself to be vulnerable with my family because they were the only ones whom I completely trusted to actually support me without viewing me as weaker. In addition, there were many times when relying on others would have helped me do something faster or more effectively, but instead, I viewed it as safer to go it alone.

Then, finally, in my second year of university – two huge things happened.

First, I went to Shanghai to study abroad. I could literally write a book on how much this experience changed me, but for the purpose of this topic, it’s relevant because I couldn’t access my usual support system as easily. The time difference between Chicago and Shanghai is 13 hours so calls could only happen when planned. Furthermore, even though I had already gone across the country for school, it was quite another feeling to be across the globe. In California, I had always had it in the back of my mind that my parents could fly out and get me if things got bad. In China, I felt truly on my own.

The second is that the living situation in Shanghai was extremely close quarters. There were roughly 45 of us in the study abroad program, and we all lived in a couple buildings in our own mini campus. We were pretty much all living right on top of one another. Consequently, it was difficult not to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of every single person. At Pepperdine, there were quiet spaces you could go if you actually needed to be alone, but in Shanghai, even the most private areas were still public to an extent. So if you were going through something, you almost had to share it with at least a few people.

This was extremely uncomfortable for me at first. I felt as though I couldn’t escape the constant clamor of others and I’m sure I came off rude and distant more than once. But slowly, I realized that for the first time in my life I found myself surrounded by people who I recognized as happy, disciplined, and ambitious, but who also consistently asked for help, and consistently displayed emotion around others.

Never before had those two ideas been reconciled in my mind. But never before had I been able to observe my friends in such close quarters and truly realize that behind every face, no matter how tough, there is a story.  Nobody can be in control, happy, or strong ALL the time, including myself. The most amazing part was that when I did start opening up a bit more, nobody thought less of me for it. They still viewed me as a capable, strong person.

Although this was a huge personal breakthrough for me, the reason I just wrote almost seven hundred words on it is because this type of thinking is a skill. Recognizing vulnerability in others, and tying it to your own is a form of empathy than can be used in any situation. Of course, this is indispensable when it comes to your personal relationships, but it can be amazingly helpful professionally as well. For example, if a client or boss comes down much harder on you than normal, before getting angry or defensive, just take one minute, sixty seconds, to think about why. It’s actually super easy to do this because (if you’ve done this right) you’ve already spent time analyzing why you yourself get angry, frustrated, or disappointed. If you know that you get snappy when you haven’t eaten or right after you’ve talked to your mom, then you can afford the same grace to someone else. It doesn’t get much credit in buzzy business articles because it’s a soft, subjective skill, but I can promise you from personal experience that when people feel like you ‘get’ them, that goes a loooong way.

 

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You can be strong and vulnerable at the same time.
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Feeling like a loser? That’s because you’re thinking like one.

Most people are resistant to change right? Do you know why though? Do you know why we get this anxious little feeling in our stomachs when someone tells us things have to be different? It’s because we really don’t like to have our status quo upset (STICK TO THE STATUS QUO! We could learn a lot from High School Musical, honestly). We don’t want to change because the current situation is the known situation. The current situation is safe. The current situation works, even if it’s not ideal.

In my mind, there are two types of change – forced change, and sought change. The first type is when your circumstances change beyond your control. Like when your company decides to start a huge initiative, or when harsh weather alters driving patterns, or when you get broken up with. Although all these changes are outside your control, it’s important to note here that in almost all scenarios, you still have choices. For example, if your company starts a new initiative, you can either stay and get involved, stay and be passively supportive, stay and be passively against it, stay and be outspoken and against it, or you can leave the company altogether.

The second type of change, the far more common type, is sought after change. We seek out change more than we realize and yet we still have the audacity to be offended by it when things actually do change. We look for new jobs, we apply for those jobs, and then we agonize over whether to take said jobs. We look for new people to date, we date them, and then we agonize over next moves in the relationship.

I know exactly zero people who have not sought out any changes in their lives. Change truly is an inevitability of life and yet there are some people out there who resist it at every turn. But as I mentioned above, most of the time, the change was sought after in the first place. So it’s not as if people don’t want to improve and change their lives, it’s that they are desperately afraid to turn their back on the known entity that is their current situation.

Why do we want to hang on to the situation we’re already in? Because it’s fucking hard to change. Not only are the logistics of change hard (i.e. moving states or countries is expensive and time consuming), but the mental and emotional impact of change can be brutal. It’s not fun to be out of your element, to be the ignorant or inexperienced one, especially if you’re used to filling that role in your current life. It’s tough to give up the things you are already confident in to replace them with potentially better, yet still unknown things.

Personally, I really try to embrace change as much as possible. Of course, there are things I would hate to change – I would hate to give up my friends, family, or boyfriend. But I try to be as open as possible to new career opportunities, new social opportunities, travel, cultures, and locations to live. This comes at a cost though. Each change carries its own emotional weight. *Moving to a new city, state, or country is not easy. Starting over is not easy. Traveling alone to a new place is not easy. Dating new people is not easy. Starting a new job is not easy. And even though every single one of these things that I’ve done has been really hard, they’ve also been supremely rewarding. If I had not actively sought and embraced these changes, I would not be the person I am today. I would not be as independent, I would not be as empathetic, I would not be as intelligent or open-minded, and who knows what else I wouldn’t be! So even though I am fully aware of how difficult change is, I still seek it out, over and over again, because I know that it makes me more confident, and I am absolutely sure that there is always something to be gained.

If you’re struggling with making a change, then try flipping your perspective. All change and situations have two sides, but it’s up to you as to which side you want to view those.

 

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My sister and I are both masters of embracing change. Thanks mom and dad?

 

 

 

How to Create Your Personal Style

An idea that always intrigued me from the time I started receiving glossy, overstyled Seventeen magazine, was the idea of personal style. There would always be articles about people who found a perfume when they were twenty and it became their signature scent, never changed in years to come. Then there were women who never left the house without heels on, and men who always wore blazers no matter how casual the look. Now the concept of a uniform has re-emerged, popularized by the likes of Zuckerberg and Jobs, and I’m seeing articles about people who wear almost the same thing to work every day – something classic and comfortable that they feel confident in.

It is interesting to me that this idea of finding a personal style is able to exist right alongside our rapid consumer culture. Stores like H&M and Zara change their inventories weekly in an effort to stay ahead of trends (which also seem to come and go by the week), and to persuade their customers to buy more. Every fashion magazine you pick up during any month will have at least one list of ‘must-haves’ for that moment, that list, of course, being ever changing if not also numerous.

The idea of personal style used to weigh on me because I was consistently distracted by all the different options that were possible, yet I still wanted to develop a sense of who I was through my appearance and maintain it. I’m still a long ways away, but I think at the age of twenty-four I’m finally figuring it out.

How does one cultivate a personal style? Number one rule is to pay attention. I don’t mean pay attention to trends, magazines, or influencers. I mean really pay attention to how the things you already own make you feel. Instead of just always paying attention to what the next best thing is as dictated to you by social media, pay attention to how you feel while wearing certain outfits or looks. Pay attention to how different cuts and fabrics feel against your skin and form to your body. I don’t mean just do a cursory glance in the mirror to make sure it looks fine, you should enjoy your appearance when you look in the mirror and anything less means these items may not be right for you.

For example, I never wear yellow. I always find that yellow looks washed out on me, and I don’t like the color all that much to begin with. I don’t feel good when I wear it. I feel sallow and unsure of myself, especially when I compare it to how I feel when I wear red or green. So I don’t care if ‘mustard’ or ‘neon’ is in at the moment, you couldn’t pay me to start buying yellow dresses.

Number two rule is that it is necessary to have style inspiration but with a caveat – you shouldn’t pick someone you can’t actually emulate. Rihanna is widely regarded as a supreme style icon but she is an impractical one to follow for numerous reasons. Her wardrobe is ever changing, extremely expensive, and not suitable for most of us to wear on a daily basis. It is still possible to draw inspiration from her looks, but it would be hard to pin down a more manageable version of what she does. Doing just a little bit of research into the people you admire can help you find the ones you’d actually want and be able to channel in your life. One extra step you might take here is finding icons as close to your body type as possible so that you can get a better idea of how certain styles might look on you. I know this can be hard for many, as fashion is a grossly underrepresented industry, but if you have the option it can be super helpful.

Last rule is that as long as you keep to rule number one, there’s no reason to actually find a personal style or follow any style icons. Part of the fun for you might be trying out different looks or having different outfits for different moods. Your style might have its personality in the fact that it is ambiguous and ever-changing. As long as you are still paying attention to what makes you feel good rather than what other people say, then you have still found a style that works for you and there is no reason to change. For example, I’ve also started to be inspired by aesthetics, seasons, and locations rather than specific people. In the summertime, I want to feel Mediterranean. I wear a lot of blue, white, flowy, easy fabrics to match, but it’s not based on anyone specific. I am trying to evoke a good feeling within myself through my appearance rather than try and copy one of my favorite fashionistas.

The basis for my personal style development is wanting to look polished no matter what the occasion. We’re talking lots of neutrals but in nice fabrics. Basics but better. Color in my wardrobe is minimal, but if worn, it is designed to be noticed and those pieces make me feel super confident. I take a lot of inspiration from the airport looks celebrities wear, and ‘french girl’ style as well as locations and seasons as described above. Slowly but surely, I’m getting to the point where I love everything in my closet and really feel like it represents me, not somebody who I thought I should be.

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A perfect example of my style being influenced by my surroundings

What to Sacrifice for Love?

Love is a funny thing. That’s probably my favorite adjective to describe love because even though it is so much more than that, the way that it affects us is truly funny. Falling in love is like going on the best vacation ever. The falling part is amazing, blissful, and extremely exciting. But if you decide to pursue a real relationship, it’s like going back to work afterward. Not that in the sense that it’s a letdown, but you realize that you both are separate people with separate personalities and desires and you have to work to reconcile those if you want to be happy together.

When I was younger, and romantic movies and books were my sole source of experience, I always thought people only broke up for dramatic reasons like cheating, or realizing their family hates you, but there are far more heartbreaking issues that can try and tear you apart.

There are big questions that inevitably have to be discussed in any long term relationship. Do we both want kids? Do we both know where we want to live? Is that the same place? How do our careers interact, does one of us have a lot of travel? Whose family do we live closer to? How do you treat money and deal with financial issues?

These are the heartbreaking issues because by the time you discuss them, you’re already attached and if you disagree it can be difficult to reconcile because these are topics of strong conviction. For example, if I was completely in love with my boyfriend but I find out three years in that he doesn’t want kids one day, we have a big problem. I know that I want them someday, so even though everything else in our relationship is going really smoothly, we would have to end it unless somebody changed their mind.

On the other hand though, I could think about it and say, you know, it’s fine if I don’t have kids. The caveat with these kinds of compromises is that you must be sure. Giving up your point of view on these issues is not to be done lightly. You may be able to fool yourself into thinking you don’t want certain things to agree with your partner so that you can be together, and this is a dangerous path. It may work for a while, your partner will surely be happy that you’ve changed your mind, but you may end up seriously unhappy and resentful that you had to give up something so completely important to you.

Why am I talking about such a heart-wrenching issue? Well, with respect to my own relationship’s privacy, our issue is the geography one. Where do we want to live in the end?

But wait Melina, I thought you already lived together, you made a whole series about moving to Canada!

Yes, you’re correct. Our current arrangement is that we live together in an apartment in Calgary, but it’s not the most ideal right now. I spend 3 out of every four weeks traveling for work and my boyfriend travels in spurts for work as well, sometimes for up to four weeks at a time. Furthermore, Calgary may not be sustainable for me at the moment since it lacks the number of career opportunities I’m currently interested in, and as an American, it’s extremely difficult to get hired anyway without already having residency status to work.

With my current job, we are just barely seeing the value of this arrangement. However, if I wanted to change jobs to something with far less travel, I’d have to move back to the U.S.. For the short term, this is fine. We have done long distance before and we’re confident we could do it again. The issue is the long term thinking. Where are we going to live? Where will we settle down and start a family? This is a question with no answer yet, in my mind because we are both so young and we can’t know what the next few years will bring, so I can’t commit to any place because I don’t want to close any doors as to where life could take me. On the other hand, my boyfriend really doesn’t have a huge reason to ever leave Calgary. His family and friends are all there, and his career trajectory fits perfectly with that city.

Part of me is desperately afraid that if I leave now, we won’t make it. He’ll realize how great his life is staying there and he’ll wish he had found someone else who didn’t present this problem. On the other hand, I also know I can’t stay. At least for now, I still feel the need to grow my career and my experience in other places. Part of me thinks that one day, Calgary could be my home, but I don’t want to make all my decisions with that end goal in mind since I want to be open to where my opportunities take me.

The only solution to this dilemma is time. We can’t know where we will be in five or ten years, and yet we’re still trying to plan for it, and we’re driving ourselves crazy with the possibilities.

Hence, my question of sacrifice. I love my boyfriend so completely, but would I be able to sacrifice everything else for Calgary? If I’m being honest with myself, right now it’s impossible, and later on, I just can’t know.  So how much is too much to sacrifice for love? I know the ‘right’ answer to my dilemma: I should go where it’s best for me. At least for now, I’ll be happier in almost every other area of my life and as for my relationship, if we both really want it to work, we’ll make it work. But knowing the ‘right’ answer doesn’t make this any easier. I don’t want to stop living close to him almost more than I want anything else, even if it’s not the best choice for me in the long run. And that’s the funny part of it all. The irrational part. The part that makes love so infuriating.

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I do like the skiing in Calgary…

Don’t Make Resolutions, Set Goals

I feel like I make one of these types of posts every new year’s because every year, I still listen to my friends make resolutions. The whole idea of new year’s resolutions sounds good in theory, but when I hear what people are claiming to strive for that year, I can’t help but be underwhelmed. People’s resolutions are vague, without conviction, and have no plan of action for achievement. People say, this year I’m going to get fit! I’m going to learn a new language! I’m going to be happier, more productive, make more money, etc.!

This is why I’m an advocate for setting clear-cut goals rather than making inexplicit resolutions. Goals and resolutions may seem like synonyms for each other, but in my mind, a goal is something with a motivating factor, a clear action plan, and milestones. People love to share what they’re focusing on, but rarely have they thought about how to achieve that.

The main problem I find is that people don’t actually have a good reason behind most of their so-called resolutions. They resolve to do these things mostly because they think that they should, but they don’t have a specific driver. For example, for those that want to be more “fit”, why? Do you want to be able to walk upstairs without losing your breath? Run a 10k? Do ten pull-ups? Play with your kids without getting sore? What is your motivation? This is important for two reasons: 1. It informs your game plan. Coming up with steps to run a 10K will look much different than training for pull-ups. And 2. This is what will keep you going when it starts to get tough. Gym memberships have a huge spike in January, and by February participation has usually dropped off because people don’t have a reason to keep going.

Ok, let’s say you have a great reason. Next, you need to go one step further and create a plan for yourself. This doesn’t have to be crucially detailed and specific. For the pull-up example, this could simply be doing as many pull-ups as possible every time you go to the gym and recording your personal bests. Or it could be adding assisted pull-ups to your workout twice a week to build up strength. It doesn’t matter, the point is that you have a reason to do this, and you’ve created a plan to achieve it.

Lastly, people don’t usually give themselves any credit until they’ve reached the end goal, but that can be really disheartening. Keeping with the pull-up goal, if you are starting from a place of not being able to do a single one, then even doing one is a huge milestone. Then when you’re able to do five, go ahead and TREAT YO SELF! You’re making progress and that’s the important part. If you wait until you get to ten to consider yourself accomplished, then you’re not giving yourself enough credit and you may grow disheartened at progress if it happens to be slow going.

I’ll give an example of one of my own goals for the year (although I have about 5 big ones)

Goal: Spend maximum one hour on social media a day.

Motivation: I found myself using my phone to distract from negative things in my life and I don’t want to be addicted to it or use it as a coping mechanism when it isn’t a healthy one.

Game Plan: Most of my social media usage occurs when I wake up or before I go to bed so the first step is to put my phone away at least a half hour before I go to bed and put it out of reach so I would have to get up to look at it in the morning. Block all social media apps between 10pm and 10am. Track my usage weekly to see how I’m doing.

Milestones: Right now I average 2-3 hours of social media a day (I am so embarrassed by this), so my milestones to cut it down are pretty straightforward. By the end of January, I want to be down to an average of 2 hrs per day, by end of February, that should be 1.5 hours per day, and by end of March, it should be 1 hour per day. Furthermore, by end of April I want to turn this into a more automatic habit I don’t have to think about as much.

See? It’s not too hard and it literally takes a few minutes to think through each goal. You can build yours out in more detail if you want, but my point is that if your ‘resolution’ doesn’t have these three elements, I can almost guarantee that you will not accomplish it. Don’t sell yourself short this 2019. Think about what you want to accomplish and why, and make a solid plan to get there. What do you have to lose?

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